What started for Level6 founder Stig Larsson “as an idea on a little surf beach in Costa Rica” has blossomed into a full-blown paddlesports apparel, lifestyle and SUP company riding a wave of momentum.
Larsson started canoeing with his parents when he was 7, then quickly took to kayaking. He won the first race he ever entered at the Madawaska Canoe Center, travelled the world kayaking and competing, and then, after getting his degree from the University of Ottawa, the light bulb hit to launch a paddling apparel company. “When we first started it in 1997 people laughed, saying how can you start a surf culture brand 20 miles from the ocean?” he says. “But at the time there was no real clothing brand for paddlers.”
Larsson started making lycra rash tops for surfers, then began experimenting with fabrics, styles and bold colors. “It just felt right,” he says. “We just wanted to create a brand that paddlers cold associate with on and off the water.” Paddling Life catches up with Larson for his take on the industry, his company and the beauty of paddling.
In his own words:
Paddling Life:Do you think you could you launch that same company today that you did back in 1997?
Larsson:I think I could launch a better company today than what I did in 1997, even if I had similar knowledge in garment construction as I did when I was 24. With the access to information and the speed at which you can communicate globally, what used to take weeks can be done in days now.
Paddling Life:What separates Level6 from the other paddling apparel brands?
Larsson:I truly feel it’s our focus to combine fashion and function. For sure, function always plays the biggest role in any type of design…but if you can work fashion into a design without sacrificing function you have the ability to change the way customers see your brand.
Paddling Life:What’s your approach toward sustainability, and how important is it to paddling?
Larsson: My approach has always been to do the best you can with the resources available to you. As you can imagine in the world of garment making, the technology changes on a monthly basis as to what is accessible. Paddlesports is a relatively small segment of the global garment trade and we tend to be later adopters than larger brands like Patagonia pioneer due to their size and financial resources. But we minimize as much packaging waste as possible by folding and tying all our items in fabric scrapes, burrito rolling all our board shorts and using recycled cardboard boxes for all our drysuits. We’ve moved to recycled yarns and fabrics for our sun protection, board shorts and some of the gear in our line up, just to name a few.
Paddling Life: How easy was it to progress from apparel to SUPs?
Larsson: For us it was quite easy; we were a cross-over brand that encompassed surf culture from the beginning. And as an avid surfer I knew enough about shaping boards that that adding it to our line-up was more natural than most people think. In the years leading up to our own board line we were selling a large amount of our apparel to SUP dealers and had a SUP-specific product offering.
Paddling Life: What can consumers expect next from Level6?
Larsson: More refinement of our designs as we continue to find ways to make our gear cleaner looking and functionally superior. We are also at a point with the size of our dealer base where we can experiment more on unique designs that don’t need to be tailored to what a specific paddling region is looking for, so consumers can expect more limited edition versions of our line up.
Paddling Life: What’s unique about paddlers compared to other outdoor sport participants such as surfers, climbers, skiers, and mountain bikers?
Larsson: As far as design influence, I feel padders are unique in terms of how abusive the sport can be on equipment and the level of demand that is put on manufactures to provide a product that can live up to those demands while keeping the retail price as efficient as possible. I feel that the culture is similar to all of those sports and it’s as much of a lifestyle as it is a sport.
Paddling Life: What’s your take on the state of paddling and whitewater kayaking today?
Larsson: It’s certainly much different than it was just 12 months ago. As the world is resetting or being forced to reset its priorities, people are re-discovering what it’s like to enjoy being outside and doing something. For the past decade or so, a lot of people would travel somewhere to be told what to look at or what to experience as a way of growing as an individual. We forgot that growth comes from inside and experiencing things doesn’t have to be a trip to Paris or Disneyland. It can be as simple as getting outside with your peers and family enjoying nature. I know personally I was caught up in the tradeshow, dealer visit, factory visit cycle for the past decade and having the past year to focus on what is truly necessary to grow a business and cut out the unnecessary has changed my way of life. And I am sure my kids see it as well in my approach as a parent.
Watch “The Story of Level6” Video here: